In one early scene of the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, the fastidious Viago (Taika Waititi, Green Lantern) complains that his flatmates Vladislav (Jermaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) and Deacon (Jonny Brugh, How to Meet Girls from a Distance) make too much of a mess whenever they invite humans over and murder them. “You could at least put down some newspaper, or some towels or something!” Viago whines. “We're vampires. We don't put down towels,” Vladislav insists.
If that makes you grin, you're probably the right audience for What We Do in the Shadows, a charmingly goofy little movie that plays like an exceptionally clever sitcom. There are a lot of different kinds of jokes trotted out over the course of the film's 85-minute running time – dumb puns, clever sight gags, outlandish gross-out moments, witty asides to the camera – but the bulk of the film's humor is rooted in the simple pleasure of watching centuries-old vampires struggle to keep up with the rapidly-evolving modern world. Lacking mortality as a motivating force, these vampires often neglect to pay much attention to new technology and the ever-shifting rules of polite society.
For the most part, What We Do in the Shadows is a hangout movie, and avoids anything resembling a traditional plot for most of its running time. The bulk of the movie is set within the confines of the humble New Zealand flat the vampires reside in, which stands in amusing contrast to the grand gothic castles of many vampire flicks. These guys could almost certainly work up the resources to live somewhere really nice if they wanted to (time is certainly on their side), but they're incredibly lazy (one scene finds the vampires bickering about household chores – it seems the dishes haven't been washed for five years), so they make do with this drab, dingy place.
Viago is 379, and is the only member of the group who puts real effort into maintaining some semblance of order. Vladislav is 862, and his old age is accompanied by an old worldview: his favorite room is the torture chamber (“I don't go in there very often these days,” he sighs), and at one point he cheerfully suggests that maybe the guys should get some slaves. Deacon is 183, and he once terrorized the world as one of the key members of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Vampire Army. These days, he mostly just lounges around the house and makes empty boasts. Finally, there's Petyr (Ben Fransham, 30 Days of Night), an 8000-year-old vampire who looks like Nosferatu and spends most of his time in a closet. The other vampires are afraid of him, so they usually just leave him alone.
Eventually, other players enter the fray. A new vampire named Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Maucer, 7 Days) joins the group, and the other guys wearily attempt to help him learn the ropes of his new life (one of the film's best sight gags arrives moments after Nick decides to try consuming something other than blood for a change). Nick has a human pal named Stu (Stu Rutherford), whose quiet politeness and advanced computer skills earn him a free pass into the secret world of vampires. There are also some werewolves led by the conservative Anton (Rhys Darby, Flight of the Conchords), who continually reminds his pals that, “we're werewolves, not swearwolves!” Later, there's a great big monster's ball of sorts featuring all kinds of colorful attendees, including a zombie who encourages other members of the walking dead to use their words and avoid stereotypical moaning.
The movie doesn't really do anything new with the mockumentary format (there's little here that Christopher Guest hasn't already done), but it's nonetheless a clever, consistently funny effort that serves up a lot of good jokes and refuses to overstay its welcome. The film was written and directed by Clement and Waititi, who also deliver the film's most entertaining performances. They have a knack for knowing precisely when to switch up the brand of humor being offered, punctuating adorably silly little gags with brief, absurdly over-the-top bits of horror movie gore (which are in turn followed by adorably silly little “yikes, huh?” reaction shots). The film's tone leans towards dry and deadpan, and a lot of potentially eyeroll-inducing jokes are redeemed by the amusingly understated way in which they're delivered. In closing, I'll leave you with one more litmus test:
“Leave me to do my dark bidding.”
“What are you bidding on?”
“I am bidding on a table.”
What We Do in the Shadows
Rating: ★★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 85 minutes
Release Year: 2015